17. Was there ever a Woman Jesuit?

The incipient Society of Jesus had trouble with its experimental acceptance of women Jesuits. A noblewoman, Isabel Roser and her two companions, sought the permission of Pope Paul III to take the vows of the Society of Jesus and form its female branch, sometime in 1545. However, upon entrance to the Society, Isabel made impossible demands and proved problematic as she continued with her old ways. She wore the patience of the Superior General, Ignatius of Loyola, when she asked for very long hours of spiritual direction. As a result, the normal way of proceeding of the order was disrupted. He in turn asked the same Pope to dispense Isabel from her vows and to write a bull forbidding entrance of women into his order.

Then came Juana the recently widowed wife of the heir to Portugal's throne. She was a benefactor to the Society of Jesus and was attracted to its way of life. She was a powerful regent to her brother Philip II of Spain, who was then married to Mary Tudor of England. Her ambitious desire endangered the Society of Jesus who was only 14 years in existence. Her taking of the religious vows forbade her from marrying again, which ran in conflict with the royal plans of her father Emperor Charles V and her brother Philip, for further alliances.

Ignatius made the difficult and perilous decision of accepting her into the order with one absolute condition: that her vows be made in secret. This way she could still live her life as a member of the Royal Family without divulging her new religious identity as a Jesuit. (Her name was not mentioned and Jesuits referred to her as, Mateo Sanchez or Montoya.) This also meant that she could never re-marry, which she observed, and lived a life of poverty (or simplicity amidst opulence). The Jesuits had only one problem with her: she gave orders to Ignatius and Francis Borgia, the two highest officials of the Society.

And after her death, the Society never accepted women Jesuits again into its order. This makes Juana the only woman Jesuit in the entire history of the Society of Jesus.

For a more complete story about her, visit Fr. John Padberg's article in the Company magazine.


Blogger ShadowMayhem said...

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8:09 PM  
Anonymous FriarOP said...

A smart move to keep the SJ all male.

My Order, the Dominicans, have women. The cloistered nuns, being cloistered, are not much of a problem. But the 3rd order sisters have huge numbers (tho now grey and dying out, a la LCWR) and when we stupidly became a "Family" post VatII, their grim feminist obsessions and general looniness was a terrible influence on the Friars.

Luckily now, that fad is passing and the men keep more to themselves. But those women did a lot of damage.

2:13 PM  

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